Identity development through student news outlet

Veteran Exponent staff member reflects on college experience and benefits of news writing

The most important decision I made in college was to join the student-led newspaper – the Exponent. The experiences have taught me how to work effectively under time constraints and create articles that express my interests. It has also allowed me to meet other students and staff members and built friendships and connections with the people associated with the paper and throughout the university. By taking the time to write outside of my course work, I have improved my writing overall and learned what issues matter to me. 

I joined the newspaper the second semester of my freshman year at UW-Platteville. I was encouraged to do so by a friend that I met while working off-campus. Overall, I enjoyed working off campus, and I got to meet a lot of upperclassmen and learn about their collegiate experiences. It took constant prodding and bothering, but I agreed to visit the paper’s production night. Initially, I felt like I had no business being there. I didn’t participate in yearbook in high school, and my school didn’t have a newspaper. How would I be able to contribute?

I arrived at the production meeting. It was chaotic to say the least. There were thousands of old newspapers stacked along the wall (not even slightly exaggerating). The tables were covered in old scrap paper and writing utensils, but I pushed the items aside and took a seat at one of the tables. I volunteered to help copy edit, not knowing the first thing about Associated Press style. I made some edits, and the other staff members went over the changes with me. At the time, I was frustrated by this because I felt that I had a good grasp on effective writing. This newspaper is what taught me that effective writing comes in a variety of forms, and the opportunity gave me hands-on experience with writing and editing for a publication. 

I was afraid of writing. I didn’t know what my voice was. I didn’t know what issues and features at UW-Platteville mattered to me. I was participating in a university band, and the editor-in-chief, along with others, twisted my arm into writing my first article about one of our concerts. 

I was nervous and panicked about having to reach out to a stranger. I received a response from the student about her experience in the ensemble, and she was happy to contribute. People want to be asked about themselves. I recognized that my role was crucial for helping other students have a voice about the opportunities they have on campus. I was actually participating in the high-impact practices that the university talks so much about.

Six semesters later, I recognize how much I learned and how different my life would be today without my experience with this newspaper. I got to work as the Exponent’s sports editor, chief copy editor and the social media/public relations manager. I wrote about ensembles, faculty forums, wrestling meets, football games and so much more. I began writing for UW-Platteville’s communication department and taking on new projects. I wrote newsletters and releases for the Teaching and Technology Center, and I was hired as a writing center consultant and peer-assisted learning leader to help others develop their voices. The newspaper truly allowed me to develop my identity at this university, and I can’t imagine going through my college career without this experience. 

I will begin my teaching career next semester. It is hard to imagine not being a part of this staff, but I look forward to seeing what the other members do as they learn about their voices and what matters to them. This experience has changed my life, and I know that other former graduates at this university feel the same way. During my teaching career, I plan to help others engage in news writing, and I encourage students of all backgrounds and majors to contribute to student news outlets during their high school and college careers.